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Tony Kornheiser

The Redskins' Biggest Asset Can't Be Found in Uniform on the Field

September 27, 2000|Tony Kornheiser

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Two hours before the Redskins were going out to play the Giants Sunday night, Norv Turner stood in the tunnel of Giants Stadium chewing sunflower seeds and making small talk. Far from appearing nervous about such a critical game and the implications it could hold for him, Turner was at ease and genial--even playful.

"Smile," he said to someone he'd known for years. "You look like you're going to a funeral."

Turner's irony was deliberate, and both men grinned appreciatively.

They chatted for a while about the afternoon's NFL games and the imminent Redskins-Giants game. Then Turner turned to join his team in the locker room.

Glancing back, Turner smiled broadly and said, "Have some fun."

You'd think Turner is having some fun now, wouldn't you?

Here's what happened during the course of the evening: Brad Johnson kept his job. Turner solidified his job. And the Redskins may have saved their season as they smothered the previously unbeaten New York Giants, 16-6. Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber may be called thunder and lightning, but all the Giants proved to be was a big wind.

This was the game the Redskins were desperate for. And who would have guessed desperation would have come so quickly? But the offense had been alarmingly slow to start. Through three games the Redskins had gotten nothing downfield. And when they'd tried to go downfield late in games, it was disastrous. Brad Johnson had thrown four fourth-quarter interceptions in the last two games.

Since the most popular player on any losing football team is the second-string quarterback, naturally there was some agitation for Jeff George to start. (I was one of the agitators.) But Turner chose to stay with Johnson, and his loyalty was understandable. It's not a stretch to suggest that Johnson's worthy play last season saved Turner's job. But Turner was not being blindly loyal to Johnson. There was the matter of the 50 points the Redskins threw on the Giants at the Meadowlands last season. That was Johnson's 50, not George's. So Turner, whose reputation rests on his ability to understand and cajole quarterbacks, rebuffed efforts to dump Johnson. And in so doing Turner tightened the collar around his own neck.

The most important relationship on this team is not between Turner and Johnson, or Turner and George. The most important relationship on this team is between Norv Turner and team owner Dan Snyder. Make no mistake, the key player on this team is not on the field wearing a uniform.

Usually, a team that's supposedly contending for a Super Bowl has a player's face out front. But this Redskins team doesn't have an obvious leader.

Emerging from this vacuum is The Danny, perfectly served up to the glaring spotlight. Young, brash, energetic and full of his own sense of mission, Snyder is everything the media associates with this new class of booming wealth. And as such he is conveniently treated as a stereotype. Indeed, Snyder is the subject of endless newspaper, magazine and TV stories that mockingly begin: "Here is The Baby Billionaire. Don't you just hate him?"

Snyder has stepped to the head of the line, ahead of George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones, as the symbol of the hands-on, quick-fix, woe-if-we-lose owner. The reaction shots of Snyder in the owner's box, his emotions cascading with every big play, are meant to suggest a Roman emperor. And the announcers are explicit in the comparison, wondering aloud whose head will be lopped off by nightfall. With all the energy, money and, yes, combustibility The Danny has pumped into the team, the Redskins have become an edgy Passion Play. And we've all got front-row orchestra seats.

And for the moment at least, the only sound you hear is applause.

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